Article Review: “Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses” by West and Cameron

Did you see my summer reading list? No, it wasn’t filled with thrilling fiction (though I did try to squeeze that in!), but excellent math resources!  Since I love all things Lucy West, one of the first things I read was: “Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses” by Lucy West and Antonia Cameron (2011).

Here’s a little background on the topic of academic discourse, according to West and Cameron (2011):

  • student discourse is vital for learning, but it is not seen in classrooms regularly (p. 1)
  • “Research from around the world validates the importance of dialogue as a key avenue for learning content with understanding and developing reasoning, social skills, and intelligence” (p. 1)
  • Douglas Reeves, Richard Allington, Vygotsky, and Robin Alexander have “linked academic success with the capacity to engage in conversation and to as and answer questions in full sentences” (p. 1)
  • it is not easy for teachers to engage students in rigorous discourse for a few reasons: the content of the lesson is lacking (i.e. there is nothing to talk about), the lesson is too factual or skills based, the lesson is not based on any “big ideas”, there is not enough time for discussion, and too much time is spend practicing a skill (p. 1-2).

So what are the benefits of “turn & talk”?  West and Cameron have eleven benefits, but I think the three most relevant to my teaching practice are:

  • “Develops capacity to articulate an idea and use new terminology”: this is a key point for me because I find that students are lacking math terms. By talking to a partner during math lessons, students are able to improve and broaden their math vocabulary.
  • “Develops the idea that the source of power is in each learner”: it is so important for students to understand that their voices, ideas, and contributions are essential to a math lesson.  They are the source of power during the lesson and their contributions are essential.
  • “Gets at least 50 per cent of the students talking in a given lesson”: I have several students in my class who love to participate during lessons and discussions, but there are many students who would rather sit back and just listen.  Turn & talk helps me get those students involved in the discussion and helps them build confidence during math lessons.

So when is it a good time for “Turn & Talk”?  West and Cameron provide 10 clues that show student discourse would be beneficial at that time, but for me the following two really stand out:

  • “Preparing to write”: for our numeracy learning cycle, we are focusing on the analysis of the problem (using our GRASS acronym), where students need to explain their thought process as they tackle the problem.  We are asking students to take us step-by-step through their though process.  By having students turn and talk with a partner first, we have found that the analysis of the problem is much more detailed, in-depth, and accurate.
  • “Teaching each other”: it is such a pivotal and powerful moment in a lesson when students are able to teach one another.  It may be that only some students understand the concept enough to teach a peer, or it may be that many students understand the concept and can show their understanding by explaining their ideas to their classmates.  Student discourse would be a great way to review the highlights and summaries of a lesson and to check for understanding. I used this approach during my measurement unit when students had to discuss the various area activities we were solving.  It worked out very well and it had everyone talking!

I highly recommend reading the article by West and Cameron.  It is an essential read for any math teacher who wants to improve both the quantity and the quality of student discourse in the math classroom.

We have been using this strategy during our TLLP math journal project and we have noticed an improvement in student problem solving and analysis. By having students turn and talk with a peer, they are showing how well they are attaining the concept and then have a better understanding of how to approach a problem and solve it successfully.

Getting You Ready for Back to School with Scholar’s Choice

As you know, we were given the wonderful opportunity to become Scholar’s Choice Content Champions on their Teacher Blog!

Here’s our most recent article: Back to Cool (Part 1): 12 Creative Community Building Activities for the First Week where we feature six engaging, fun, and creative activities to welcome your students to your classroom.

Be sure to try out these fantastic ideas with your students!!

Accountable Talk in the Math Classroom: Discussion Starter Prompts!

As I’ve written before, I’m in the process of creating a math focus wall for my classroom which will be centred around my SMART Board.  I’ve found a couple of inspiration pics on Pinterest, but I’m still working on a plan that will work for my students.  One of the things that I plan to include are sentence starters to help students during math discussions.

A key component of a successful mass lesson is having the students engaged in robust mathematical dialogue.  I’m a huge fan of Lucy West (check out her site if you still haven’t!) and her article “Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses” (West and Cameron), was on my summer reading list.  According to West and Cameron, “robust student academic discourse is vital for deep learning, [but] it is also a practice we see far too little of in many classrooms.”

There may be several reasons for the lack of discourse during math classes—perhaps there may not be enough time, students may not have enough to say, or students tend to lose track and start socializing.  I know that I have overheard my students discuss weekend plans when they should be discussing the methods they used to solve their math problem! All these reasons for lack of math discourse may be tied to one key component overall—students are not sure how to talk about math.  This would explain why math discourse may take up “too much time”, “just doesn’t work”, or students “lose track”.  If students knew how to talk about math, then they would have more opportunities for robust dialogue.

In order to solve this overall problem, I decided to create discussion starter prompts.  I created these on legal size paper as I will be posting them on my math focus wall on a rotating basis. Just print, laminate, and post!

math discourse cards

Designing a Math Focus Wall for Your Classroom: The Planning Stage

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Part 1: 12 Essential Components of a Math Focus Wall

In Part 1 of this series, I explained how I wanted to create a math focus wall for my classroom.  I came up with 12 items that I think are necessary components of a math focus wall.  Since I teach intermediate students, the math focus wall I am designing would look different than many of the primary math focus walls I have seen.

To set the scene, I have five bulletin boards at the back of my classroom.  The SMART Board covers the bottom half of the middle bulletin board.  I decided to spread out my math focus wall over the three centre bulletin boards.  Since I want to incorporate several items into my math focus wall, I really needed the space to do it justice.

So after quite a bit of copying, cropping, and pasting, here’s my plan:

Picture2

I’ve managed to include all the 12 items I had mentioned previously. These are the items that are ready to go:

  • my SMART Board is at the centre and is ready to be incorporated into my math lessons
  • on the left hand side, I have my math talk sentence starters…there are 52 sentence starters and I will be changing them on a regular basis.  They will be used to help guide students during their math discussions (I will post a link to this new product of ours soon!)
  • at the top left hand corner, the four posters help student decipher math word problems and determine which operation to use (I will post a link to this new product of ours soon!)
  • on the right hand side, our GRASS posters help students to break down word problems.  The white boxes along the poster set will show student solutions to problems we are working on…these will be changed on a regular basis as well
  • along the top of the board you’ll find our posters “What does a good mathematician do?” to help students become mathematical thinkers and apply various skills when solving problems

The items shown in white on my plan will be co-created with or created by students:

  • learning goals and success criteria will be co-created with students for each new lesson
  • the white tiles next to the GRASS posters will contain student problem solving steps

I still need to work on the following items (the items shown in blue on my plan):

  • make a sign for my math talk prompts
  • find examples of math in everyday life
  • find funny math comics
  • an eye catching border and title
  • work on key terms for each section (term: definition, diagram, examples)
  • math reflection questions for their math journals
  • challenge question of the week (University of Waterloo’s Problem of the Week and Math Circles are great resources for this)
  • and math strategy posters (e.g. work backwards, draw a picture, solve a simpler problem)

Any other suggestions? Any areas for improvement?

Tune in for more updates on my math focus wall!

52 Science Journals…Now in a PowerPoint Version!

Have you seen our 52 Science Journals Prompts? They’re an excellent and engaging way to incorporate English Language Arts in your Science classes!

Now, we’ve created a PowerPoint presentation for our science journals! Still the same great content, but in an easy to display presentation.  Depending on your preference, you may either want to print out our original science journal prompts to create booklets for your students or you may want to display the PowerPoint presentation and have students write their journals in their notebooks or type them out.  Either way it’s a great way to get your students writing, reflecting, researching, and communicating during your science classes!

Get the original 52 Science Journal Prompts as an easy to print PDF!

Get the 52 Science Journal Prompts as an easy to display PowerPoint Presentation!

The Tuesday 12: 12 Essential Components of a Math Focus Wall

Welcome to another edition of The Tuesday 12! I recently had a SMART Board installed in my classroom and I’d like to incorporate it in my math lessons.  Then I began to think of creating a math focus wall on … Continue reading →